The sweet strains of the well-known and much-loved Irish lullaby, Toora, Loora, Loora, drift down the first floor hallway of the Prince Edward Home in Charlottetown.
In the chapel, Ruth Lewis is tickling the ivories. Flipping through the pages of a music book, she encourages the seniors to shout out their favourite songs.
When somebody suggests You Are My Sunshine, several seniors sing along. Others sit motionless. Still others move their feet in time to the music.
It’s a scene that gets played out each week when Lewis leads a sing-song for residents at the long-term health-care facility.
It’s a setting where Lewis believes she’s making a difference.
“I see it in their eyes. When seniors hear the old songs they go back to their youth to when their own parents were living. That’s why their eyes shine. The old songs bring back good memories,” says the Charlottetown woman who recently received an award for her musical volunteer work from the Prince Edward and Beach Grove homes.
And while she appreciates the honour, she feels she has already received her reward.
“I see their joy. If I can do something to cause someone else to smile, that’s enough for me,” says Lewis.
Sitting next to the piano, resident Howard Walker sings Take Me Out to the Ball Game at the top of his lungs. He is one of her biggest fans.
“I like Ruth and I like her music,” says the 89-year-old Charlottetown senior.
The volunteer also hits a high note with activity director Jeff Cooke.
“Ruth brings a great ray of sunshine into our homes. Residents always look forward to her visits. She’s such an entertainer. Known for her musicianship and her smile, people automatically are excited to see her at both the Prince Edward and (nearby) Beach Grove homes,” he says.
LPN Cara Dixon says Lewis’s music has far-reaching effects.
“It’s not just for the people who are in the common area. Residents in their rooms hear it, too. And it’s the same for the staff when music is being played. It really helps to boost the morale here,” she says.
Lewis has shared her music at many senior/nursing homes since retiring from the Department of Health and Social Services as a social service worker 13 years ago.
“My husband, Ron, suggested that I volunteer. He took me to my (volunteer) interview at Prince Edward Home. I haven’t looked back,” she says.
Because of her experience, Lewis encourages other retirees to consider volunteering.
“You don’t have to be bored or miserable. You don’t know how much good you can do and how good you feel by going to nursing homes. People just want to touch you and talk about their own lives,” says Lewis, who also received a pin and a plaque from the Garden Home and a pin from the premier in 2001 during the International Year of the Volunteer.
She credits growing up in a musical environment for inspiring her.
“Both my mum and dad were musical. My father used to play for the silent movies in Montague. My mother played the piano and directed a church choir and sang on CFCY every Saturday morning in the 1940s,” says Lewis, who started playing the piano when she was three years old.
It’s the memory of her family that keeps her volunteering.
“When I was three my dad passed away. A few years later my mother remarried and I went to live with my grandmother. She was a beautiful person, loving and kind. So, when I look at the residents here, I think of her.
“I also think that at some point in my life I’ll probably be at a nursing home too ... and I hope that someone will come in and play for me. So, in a way, I’m paying it forward.”
AT A GLANCE
Up close and personal with Ruth Lewis
Family: Married to Ron Lewis for 50 years. The couple has three daughters: Lori Reynolds (Stephen), Cindy and Haley Lewis, as well as three grandchildren.
Favourite pastimes: Music, genealogy and cooking.
Favourite tunes: The Fort Augustus Waltz, We’ll Meet Again.
Favourite book: Dig Your Way.
Favourite fan: “My husband, Ron. I wouldn’t be able to volunteer without his love and support.”
Favourite places to play: Whisperwood Villa, Andrews Lodge, Geneva Villa, Prince Edward Home, Beach Grove Home, Mount St. Mary’s, Lady Slipper Villa, South Shore Villa and Cavendish Baptist Church.